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Understanding the social entrepreneur: a new intentions model for advancing equity, social justice and sustainability
Journal of Entrepreneurship in Emerging Economies  (IF),  Pub Date : 2021-06-22, DOI: 10.1108/jeee-10-2020-0359
Erika Miyuri Duncan-Horner, Megan Anne Farrelly, Briony C. Rogers


Social entrepreneurship (SE) is an emerging social phenomenon gaining tangible traction for its ability to tackle complex social and environmental problems against a backdrop of global sustainability challenges. This paper aims to unpack SE intentions, mindset and motivations to elucidate “why” and “how” social entrepreneurs (SE) initiate, perpetuate and sustain pro-social entrepreneurship activity. It specifically asks why SE do what they do, how they develop and sustain pro-social entrepreneurship action and how these normative drivers affect the social change process.


This qualitative research adopts an exploratory multiple case design approach in examining the tacit experience of eight SE tackling complex water, sanitation and environmental challenges in Indonesia, and combines this with scholarly insights from multiple bodies of knowledge. Case studies include six SE recognised by the Ashoka Foundation and two lesser-known “social enterprises” to enable finding patterns across the cases and compare key differences between pro-social and conventional entrepreneurship. Triangulating semi-structured interviews with secondary data analysis and semi-ethnographic fieldwork observations, this paper provides a rich theoretical and empirical basis to understand the emerging transformative potential of SE in tackling a range of sustainability issues.


Interviews with eight SE highlighted their intentions to advance inter and intra-generational equity, social justice and sustainability, bringing socially embedded empathetic values and a growth mindset to overcome challenges associated with disrupting existing social order. Direct engagement with the SE revealed 10 critical enabling factors to foster future SE potential, namely, individual background and experience, unmet social needs, empathy, sense of belonging, willingness/passion to alleviate other’s suffering, growth mindset, internal/external catalysts, intrinsic and extrinsic needs, beliefs and goals and declaration of a social mission to ensure consistency in behaviour and action. This demonstrates that while SE are motivated by a variety of self and other-oriented mechanisms, it is ultimately the process of developing empathy, a growth mindset and declaring a social mission that drives and sustains pro-social entrepreneurship action.

Practical implications

The output of this research is a new intentions model, which outlines the 5 phases of enterprise development and 10 critical enabling factors to foster future SE potential. These insights are critical to leveraging the emerging transformative potential of SE in tackling the world’s most urgent sustainability issues.

Social implications

The paper presents a deep analysis of data on individual background, experience and characteristics in developing a new SE intentions model.


The distinct focus on inputs over processes and outcomes answers to a highly elusive topic while offering an alternative approach to understand how SE create remarkably different strategies, processes and outcomes to conventional developmental approaches.